Depth, of the Division I variety, will play a big role in any playoff push the Bismarck Bobcats are to make this spring.
Friday night, it was all on full display.
Five players scored, four of whom are committed to D-I programs, as the Bobcats topped the Minnesota Wilderness 5-3 in game 1 of their best-of-five division semifinal round playoff series at VFW Sports Center. Game 2 is tonight at 7:15.
"This is definitely one of the best lineups I've ever played with," said Tim Piechowski, who scored the Bobcats fourth goal of the game and was one of 16 D-I commits in the lineup Friday. "It's a huge advantage to have four lines with everyone contributing. It makes it easier for everyone."
The Bobcats held a commanding 47-27 shots on goal advantage and led 4-1 before the Wilderness made things interesting with two third-period goals. Ben Troumbly, a St. Cloud State commit, effectively sealed the win, scooping in his own rebound to make to 5-3.
"It's a really good start for us. Obviously when you get into the playoffs, getting that first game is big," Piechowski said. "I thought there were a lot more positives than negatives tonight. First and second period we played really well. Kinda had a little letdown in the third and let them back in the game, but we finished strong."
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The Bobcats came out buzzing. With the puck pinned in the Wilderness zone, fourth-line defenseman Jon Bell unleashed a shot from the top of the left circle. The puck nestled into the left corner under Wilderness goalie Jacob Zacharewicz, giving the home team a 1-0 lead just 1 minute and 54 seconds into the game. The goal was the second of the season for Bell.
Still 1-0, the Cloquet-Minnesota headquartered Wildneress equalized. Bobcats goalie Cameron Korpi made the initial save, put the puck shot back through the crease on a deflection, leaving the left-side of the net wide open. Grant Docter was there to stuff it in to tie the game at 1-all.
The Bobcats regained the lead late in the first period on a highlight-reel goal. Lars Rodne drew two Wilderness defensemen toward him, leaving Jon Ziskie wide open to Zacharewicz's glove side. Rodne feathered a perfect backhand pass right to the tape of Ziskie, who whizzed a clean one-timer top shelf for a 2-1 Bismarck lead at 16:51 of the first.
The Bobcats stretched the lead to 4-1 with a dominant second period, which could have been worse if not for 15 saves by Zacharewicz.
After coming up empty on two power plays, the Bobcats continued to pressure before Owen Michaels beat Zacharewicz at 10:34 of the second period. At that point, the Bobcats held a 26-12 edge in shots.
The advantage grew even further five minutes later.
With the puck again pinned in the Wilderness end, Piechowski's persistence paid off. The St. Thomas recruit jammed in a loose puck to put the Bobcats up 4-1. Ryan Taylor and George Grannis got assists.
The Bobcats allowed just four second-period shots. One was grade A chance, but Korpi was positioned perfectly to make the save.
"I really liked the second period, obviously, but the first period was good too," said Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie. "Didn't like the start of the third period, but the boys stuck with it, regrouped and were able to get going again. I think the adversity this group has been through this season allows them to come through in those tough moments."
A slow start to the third period by the Bobcats allowed the Wilderness to sneak back in.
Unassisted goals by Donte Lawson and Gavin Rasmussen less than three minutes apart, made it a 1-goal game (4-3) with 14 minutes still to play.
Troumbly's goal made it 5-3. After taking a slick feed from Grant Ahcan, Troumbly's first shot was right on target, but Zacharewicz made the save. The rebound kicked back to Troumbly, who buried it.
"You just look at the scoresheet tonight and so many guys chipped in. That's when we're at our best," Piechowski said. "We know what our formula for winning is and we showed that tonight. We just have to build on it and do it again tomorrow."
Korpi, who returned to the Bobcats recently after playing for the U.S. 17-and-under national team, finished with 21 saves. The Western Michigan commit was away from the Bobcats from mid-February until the start of May, but wanted to rejoin the team for the playoff push.
"That's a big piece for us," Sedevie said of Korpo. "He's arguably the best 16-year-old (goalie) in the nation. We're happy to have him for sure."
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org